Dinner was as disgusting as every other meal here. Poorly cooked fish and boiled potatoes. Already she missed pizza and hamburgers.
As the plates were taken away by the servants father turned to her.
“Are you ready for the ceremony?” He asked.
“No. I don’t even know what the ceremony requires of me.”
She knew one thing required of her: death. She couldn’t go with them. All day long she had looked for a way to escape but wherever she looked she saw father’s guards watching her.
“You have to do very little. The appropriate attire is laid out on your bed. Go change and meet me and your sister down here.”
“Of course, father.”
She excused herself and went up to her bedroom and closed the door.
The time had already come. Either she escaped now or they’d drag her to the old caves and kill her. She didn’t know what this was all about and she didn’t want to know. She just wanted away from there.
Black robes with gold designs of Deep Ones and Elder Gods lay on her bed. A white porcelain mask that resembled a serene face lay with the robes.
She kept hoping David would burst through the door at any moment, but she knew that was impossible. He wouldn’t know that she had been taken and even if he did he wouldn’t know where to find her.
She was on her own.
The knife she had snuck out of dinner was hardly enough, but it was all she had.
Gretchen went to the window and looked out. It was night time with a half moon. Down below was the garden full of dried, half dead plants. There weren’t any guards visible.
Now was her chance. If she didn’t go now she might never have another.
She quickly unlocked the window and climbed out onto the sloping tiled roof. Some of the shingles broke under her weight but none slid down and off to the ground to give away her presence.
There was a lattice covered with dead vines and she made her way on all fours like a crab over to it. The problem was that there was an overhang. Slowly she eased a foot down until her foot caught the lattice. Step by step she lowered herself down until she was on the lattice like a ladder.
Now the question was whether or not the lattice would support her weight. She suddenly was glad she was small.
Somehow she made it down to the ground and hid behind some bushes. The garden was on a cliff overlooking the sea. Too far to jump and too rocky. She’d have to make it past the front of the house and through the town if she was to escape.
The beam of a flashlight came into view and she froze in place. A guard with a long bolt action rifle walked by, gazing around at nothing in particular. He was alert, but only barely so.
Once he passed she stood up and began making her way to the front of the house, clinging to the walls as she did.
At the corner she peered around and saw that there were several guards and a pickup truck full of armed men. She used the term “men” loosely. Father was on the front porch issuing orders. Entirely too many to sneak past and she couldn’t stay where she was. The next patrol would spot her.
Something was definitely going on. Other ceremonies didn’t require this degree of security. Did they consider her that great of a risk?
As she thought about it she saw another roving guard coming through the small gathering and heading her way. He had a shotgun and a flashlight.
She hurried back to the bushes and hid. She tried to remain unseen but wondered how her pounding heart didn’t alert the entire town to her position.
As he came closer an idea occurred to her. She could dress like him, take his shotgun and perhaps walk out unnoticed. But her “stun” spell only worked by touch. She’d have to sneak behind him.
As he passed by she crept out and approached him.
She must not have been as “ninja” as David would say because the guard whipped around with his light.
Stealth ruined, she sprang at him to get her hands on him.
She managed to grab his arm but not before he called out.
“Fiddlesticks!” She cursed and paralyzed the man with a few dark words.
She snatched up his shotgun and checked if it was loaded. It was and she turned around in time to see three guards running around the corner.
She raised the shotgun and they all dove to the ground.
They wouldn’t kill her. Father had probably ordered them to keep her alive for whatever they needed her for.
Then Hannah came around the corner, clutching her favorite doll in her arms. She was smiling and showing off her pointed shark teeth.
“Where you going, sister?” Hannah asked.
“No, you’re not.”
“What is this ceremony?”
“You’re about to play the part for which you were raised. You were born for this moment. Don’t ruin it for us.”
She pointed the shotgun at Hannah.
“Don’t make me hurt you,” Gretchen said.
Hannah shook her head as if disappointed.
“I told father you were an idiot.”
Hannah raised her hand and suddenly pain, like lighting coursing through her body, struck her and she fell to the ground.
The pain still tore through her as Hannah walked up and looked down at her.
“So pathetic. Like the ancient Bulgar Khan, I will use your skull for a drinking cup. Maybe I’ll keep the rest of your corpse around and use it for spare parts.”
What few thoughts got through the wall of pain were all about failure and the impossible hope that David would still rescue her.
Hannah bent down and with her free hand touched her. Instantly the pain ended but she no longer had control of her body. She couldn’t move and she fell limp.
Guards came and dragged her upstairs. Hannah used a wicked looking knife to cut the clothes off her body and then dressed her in the robe. Finally Hannah tied the mask on her face and once that was done she whistled sweetly to the guards.
“Bring her,” Hannah said.
They carried her down to the basement where the tunnel to the Reef Temple was.
The Reef Temple was a cave, whether natural or man made no one knew. Water filled it to their ankles except where a raised platform stood in the middle. An altar of the strange Deep Ones’ gold sat on top of the coral platform.
It was to the altar where they dragged her. They chained her down and father and Hannah stood over her.
“You were raised for this one and only purpose, daughter.”
“You were never meant to be High Priestess. That is my destiny,” Hannah said.
Hannah waved her hand, breaking her paralysis spell.
“What is this?” Gretchen asked weakly.
She was terrified. She had seen what horrible things they were capable of. She had seen people tortured to insanity for days. She had seen skin flayed off of living people and she had seen people given over to Deep Ones for unnatural concourse.
“Perhaps you won’t understand, but this is a great honor, daughter. You will be the key to releasing the Great Cthulhu. Your sacrifice will bring the stars closer to alignment. The gateways are out of harmony and you are the tuning fork,” he said in the slow, methodical manner he used when reciting a ceremony.
“Now, dear sister, I must consume your power. You will not find this pleasant.”
Hannah took out her curved blade and began pulling up Gretchen’s robe.
“I must carve some runs on your flesh to allow your power to escape. Then I’ll drink your power in which will be more uncomfortable than it sounds. Then, as a final token, we’ll give you to the avatar of Cthulhu who lies waiting on the other side of the veil.” Hannah paused long enough to cover her mouth to giggle. Then she leaned in close enough to feel her breath on her face. “Shame you didn’t lose your virginity to that idiot outsider. You would have enjoyed him more than this.”
David lay on his stomach watching the movement of the house. There had been shouting a few minutes ago but he hadn’t see what it was about. He crept forward a little more to get a better look.
Armed guards were walking around the old, rickety mansion that looked like something out of the Adams Family. It had square towers with steep roves, round windows with iron workings and peeling gray paint. It had a large porch that wrapped around the far side and a widow’s walk up near the top.
The moon was halfway hidden behind clouds and he could hear the roar of the sea and smell the salt in the air. He could also smell the stench of the marshes that surrounded the place.
A truck of armed men sped off down the hill towards the town but four men still walked around the perimeter.
“Plan?” Beth asked.
“I wish I had some silencers.”
“She’s pretty quiet,” Beth said. She nodded towards Sayako who sat there, staring off into nothing.
A few minutes later he watched as Sayako faded into nothing and went towards the house. There was no sign she was there until one of the guards walking along the side began to choke as if he were being strangled. Which he was. His body then tumbled from the cliff and down into the ocean below.
One by one Sayako killed the guards out of sight of the others and they moved up to the house. He took point with the other two behind him.
The front door was open and he pressed up against the wall as he peered in. It was like an add for an antiques auction only instead of priceless treasures everything was worn down junk. Maybe at time this place had been nice, but now these things wouldn’t fetch a dollar at a garage sale.
With his AK up to his shoulder and at low ready, he slipped into the house and began clearing the place room by room.
With the downstairs cleared he went to the stairs. There were no lights or sounds coming from upstairs.
“I don’t think she’s up there,” Beth said.
He didn’t think so either.
“Down,” Sayako said.
They must have missed something so they checked again and this time he found a doorway in a closet. Behind the door were some wooden stairs that led downward. There were no lights so he cracked one of his glowsticks and led the way. His footsteps echoed in the narrow tunnel and a distant chanting grew louder as they walked. The slapping of Sayako’s bare feet stood out from the muffled sounds of their shoes.
The tunnel seemed to stretch forever in a gradual descent. He looked behind periodically to check on the other two. Beth had wide, frightened eyes but her mouth was closed in a look of determination. He wouldn’t have to worry about her.
Sayako was unreadable. She had a blank look with eyes that were slightly too wide open. She held her Thompson with the barrel down like he showed her.
An artsy emmo girl and a Japanese ghost. Not his first picks for a dangerous mission, but Sayako was proving to be pretty useful. He hoped Beth would prove as useful and keep her head when bullets started flying.
His mindset was the same it was before every battle, but with one exception. His mind was clear and focused on what needed to be done and looking out for threats. Battle plans and his gear filled his brain. But constantly underlying every thought was the image of Gretchen. She could be hurt or perhaps she hated him now.
But this time was different. This time Gretchen was in danger and if he messed up Uncle Sam wouldn’t miss a chance to catch an insurgent leader or fail to destroy a weapons cache. No, this time if he failed a beautiful girl who deserved to live would die. He was certain of it. This mission allowed for no mistakes.
Then he saw light ahead. He hid the glowstick under his jacket and put a finr to his lips to tell everyone to stay quiet.
They crept forward and saw a man at the exit of the cave. His back was turned to them and beyond was an opening; possibly a larger cave. The chanting was much louder now.
It was the same damn chant he had heard in Iraq.
He looked at Sayako and then nodded toward the man. Sayako didn’t react at first and he was about to spell it out for her when she faded into nothing. He felt her cold presence move past him. A few moments the man was yanked backwards and was silently strangled.
“Good job, Sayako. I’ll buy you whatever game you want when we get back,” he whispered.
In invisible, cold hand caressed his cheek. Was that her idea of flirting?
He ignored Sayako and crept to the opening. As he guessed, it was a wider cave. There were about forty or fifty people surrounding a raised platform in the middle. The people were standing in calf deep water. They were unarmed so he ignored them for now. On the raised platform were three people. A hunched over man with a hat, a young girl with long black hair and on a gold table was Gretchen. She had one black robes with a white mask, but her mass of silver hair was unmistakable.
The girl was talking to Gretchen but he couldn’t hear what they were saying. The old man had his back to them but the girl resembled Gretchen enough to assume that this was Gretchen’s sister. The people in the crowd were “off” somehow. When he looked closer he saw that they all had a similar look about them. There was something not quite human about these people.
There were only two guards on the far side of the cave. One carried an old “grease gun” and the other carried a shotgun. They stood at the opening of another long tunnel. His eyes were fixated at the stone alter where Gretchen was.
Then the girl began pulling up the robe Gretchen was wearing and exposed her nude waist. The girl then took out a curved knife, raised her hands to the air and began chanting something.
He had to act now.
David turned to his companions and whispered their instructions.
“I’ll take out the guard with the shotty. Beth, take out the other guard and then we run for the altar. If anyone tries to stop us, shoot them. Sayako, don’t aim that thing near Gretchen. If the crowd attacks, hold that thing tight and hold down the trigger. Shoot just like I showed you. Got it.”
“Got it,” Sayako said.”
He was about to issue more instructions when he heard a scream.
The girl was carving something onto Gretchen’s thigh with her damned knife.
He stood up, took aim at the guard and fired. His first shot struck the man in the shoulder and he went down, dropping the shotgun.
Beth fired next to him but the guard ducked down and her shots went wide.
David cursed and ran up the stone steps to the altar. He leveled his AK at the girl.
“Drop the knife,” he said.
The girl, the same one he met earlier, glared at him with her black eyes. She dropped the knife and took a step back.
Beth was still firing at the man with the grease gun and Sayako had her Tommy Gun pointed at the crowd of inhuman degenerates.
He looked at the girl. Her black eyes were burning with anger. The old man moved over to stand next to her. His eyes were solid black spheres and his mouth was wide and full of jagged shark teeth. David could hear his forced breathing.
Then he looked down at Gretchen who was chained to the altar. He could see her silver eyes looking at him, but the mask hid her expression. He could only hope that she could forgive him. Whether she hated him or not, he would get her out of this hellish place. She would live even if it cost him his own life.